Israeli Minister Favors Golan Withdrawal, Sees Chance of Talks with Syria
An Israeli cabinet minister spoke out Wednesday in favor of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights plateau, saying it was "Syrian territory" occupied by the Jewish state in war 33 years ago.
"The Golan was Syrian territory before we occupied it in 1967 and we announced at the time that Israel was ready to withdraw to a line based on the international border as long as we obtained security arrangements," Justice Minister Yossi Beilin told Israeli army radio.
"I believe there is a real chance of resuming negotiations with Syria when I hear the declarations of Syrian President Bashar Assad and what we hear from diplomats who visit Damascus," said Beilin.
Negotiations broke down in January only weeks after their revival because of discord over the Golan, which the Jewish state subsequently annexed in 1981.
"If the Syrians want to negotiate on these terms they will find a partner in Israel," said Beilin, considered a dove in Prime Minister Ehud Barak's government.
Beilin called on Syria to seize the opportunity of making peace, saying it was not certain that a future Israeli government would be prepared to make such "substantial concessions."
However, the minister nevertheless reiterated Israel's opposition to a return of Syrian control over the northeastern shores of Lake Tiberius.
Barak said on Tuesday that Israel was ready to resume negotiations if they would achieve "successful results."
During his visit to Israel on Tuesday, Jordan's King Abdullah II said he believed Assad was committed to peace but that he was focused on domestic issues since taking power following the death of his father Hafez Assad in June.
"The president is focused on many issues in his country," King Abdullah told reporters. "But as he has said before, the peace process was started by his late father and is one that he is willing to continue. I think we just have to give him time." - OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP)
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